Life

Ask Fiona: Should I cut my losses and move on from my partner?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on a man who is struggling to make a decision about his relationship and another having relationship issues with his dad

Nobody can decide what is best for you but yourself

I’VE been seeing a beautiful and caring woman for the past 11 years, but we only lived together for about five of those, in a home I purchased. I’ve wanted to marry her from the first day I met her, but every time I’ve brought it up, she says we don’t have the building blocks to do something that permanent.

I’ll admit things have been bumpy; although we lived together, we often led separate lives. For example, she has three girls from a previous partner and did many school events with them, to which I was never invited because the girls’ father was going to be there.

Her 21-year-old daughter is a single parent and has been a constant source of problems – she does what she wants, when she wants, and she’s always been like this.

Her mother makes it easy for her; she and her baby lived with us for a while, and she continues to live with her mother to this day.

We always seemed to have other members of her family staying too; her mother decided she wanted a fresh start and moved in with us shortly after we moved in together.

She stayed with us for a year, and it only ended because I demanded she move out – but then we let her brother and his wife move into our rental property, another nightmare.

They paid the rent infrequently and were not good tenants, so we didn’t part on good terms when I kicked them out.

Then three years ago, I had an affair with a colleague, though I am not sure you can call it an affair because the woman I care for and I were never legally married. Anyway, my colleague and I had a baby – but I still didn’t want to leave my significant other, although I was also not going to leave my daughter without a father. I managed to get joint custody and my daughter lives with me 50% of the time, but my significant other has since moved out.

We continue to see each other, and we even say we’re together, but there are no plans to live together anytime soon. Much as I miss her, I don’t miss her lazy daughter, but maybe it’s asking too much of her to love another woman’s kid. One way or another, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to this relationship, but I’m not sure I was ever getting what I wanted and wonder if it’s time to cut my losses.

JR

FIONA SAYS: You describe this woman as your ‘significant other’. But from the start of your relationship together, you’ve not been the only person in her life. She is obviously deeply committed to her family and, whatever you may think of her daughter, I suspect she loves her greatly.

You tell me you often led separate lives; that she was still sufficiently in touch with the children’s father to attend school events with him. You also tell me you had an affair with a colleague – doesn’t this all add up to something for you? You have never been loved enough by this woman and it seems like you never will be. You looked for love and affection elsewhere – and perhaps you found it, although for reasons best known to you and to your colleague, you’ve decided not to make a future with her.

The child you have with your colleague is not just ‘another woman’s kid’. Had you had this daughter before you met your ‘significant other’ it might have been completely different, but the child is now a constant reminder that your relationship together wasn’t enough.

By the sound of it, it has never been enough – she has always wanted others around her, be it her mother, her daughter, her brother. Isn’t this a clue for you that how ever much you may care for her, she needs more than you can give her.

You ask if it’s time to cut your losses, but that’s only something you can decide. If you are willing to accept things as they are, then the relationship will probably continue in the same vein – I honestly cannot see it changing. If you’re not, then yes, perhaps it is time you looked for love elsewhere. Might that be with your colleague? If not her then at least another woman who wouldn’t have to look at your child and know however much she cared for you, it wasn’t enough to stop you looking for love elsewhere.

NOTHING IS EVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR MY FATHER

I’M 55 – and nothing I have done has ever been right or good enough for my father, who is 75. Over time, I’ve learned what to do and not do around him to avoid confrontation; he’s not an easy man to get along with.

For example, when I was in my 20s, I had sold my car to buy a foreign sports car – but that made my father so furious, he wouldn’t talk to me for four years. He moved without telling me, and only through family friends did I eventually find out where he had moved to. They encouraged me to contact him and we met for breakfast, which was a very awkward affair, although it did start us talking and we gradually got close again.

As he’s grown older, he has seemed more able to have a relationship of some sort with me, but even so, he never calls or texts me, unless it’s an emergency or he’s sick. A few months ago, he texted me wanting my son’s mobile number, which I though was odd because they had had almost no contact.

At the time I was busy and forgot to reply until three days later. He didn’t respond, so I tried again the next day and each day for the rest of the week, by which time I was worried he was ill, I sent a text to his wife. She replied that he’d spent two months in hospital for Covid and was still not fully over it. It was the first I’d heard about it, but then I got a text from him telling me to stop bothering his wife, and that if I can’t respond to his texts, he will ignore mine!

I was really hurt by this. Now, out of the blue, he’s sent me a text to say he needs to have surgery for possible cancer.

I can’t sleep for worrying or crying and am desperate for help. Do I call to offer help, or ignore him and move on with my life?

ML

FIONA SAYS: You really don’t have a good relationship with your father, and it seems he is the kind of person who takes offence at whatever you do, if it suits him. It seems to me that you are desperate for your father’s love and affection, and that this has never been forthcoming.

You mention ‘his wife’ so I’m assuming that this person is not your mother, which leads me to wonder if your parents separated when you were a child. Did you, as unfortunately many children do, blame yourself for the separation? As an adult, I’m sure you realise this isn’t logical – whatever happened was not your responsibility – but could you possibly, as a child, have felt this way? Could you be carrying some baggage from this, and is it perhaps time you thought about trying to let it go?

As your father is now in his mid-70s, the chances are he’s not going to change his behaviour. But it’s not too late to change yours. I would encourage you to think about getting counselling of some kind (contact BACP – bacp.co.uk) to help you deal with his cruel behaviour and unpack the impact it’s had on you.

In terms of what’s happening with your father’s health now, you suggest you’ve got two options – to call and offer to help your father, or ignore him and move on with your life. I’d suggest a third option: continue to call, text and message him regularly, if you want to, without any expectation of a response – just let that go.

You’ve tried to get your father to recognise and accept you. You know who you are, and you know you’ve tried your best, so get yourself some counselling help to recognise the fact.

HOW CAN I HELP MY SISTER?

MY sister was divorced two years ago, and she isn’t coping. Things got worse last month when her son accepted a job within her ex-husband’s company. She’s gone through a really rough patch and even threatened to commit suicide.

She has worked hard to look after her son for the past two years but has had to resort to tranquillisers. Our mum helps as much as she can, but I wonder is there anything more I can do other than provide a shoulder to cry on?

FL

FIONA SAYS: Please don’t underestimate the importance of just being there. Having a willing listener who doesn’t judge, criticise, or try to dictate, will help your sister unload a lot of the emotional baggage she’s still carrying. If she hasn’t already spoken to her GP about getting support, perhaps that’s something you could gently suggest?

She clearly hasn’t come to terms with her divorce and is finding it hard to accept the fact that her son is trying to maintain contact with his father. You could help her further by suggesting that it’s better for her son’s long-term emotional make up to be on good terms with both parents. If you find it hard to cope with this, or feel your sister could do with some professional counselling help, then Relate can probably help (relate.org.uk).

I’M HAVING SEX DREAMS ABOUT A COLLEAGUE

I WORK with a man who is happily married and expecting his first child in a couple of months. I have known him for about six years, and we are very good friends.

I am happily married myself but am worried by sexual dreams I’ve recently been having, in which I fantasise about making love to him. I have no wish to spoil either of our lives by ever allowing these dreams to become reality and wish they would stop. Do I need to distance myself from his friendship?

HO

FIONA SAYS:You’ve made it clear that you have no intention of acting upon these fantasies, so what would you gain by stepping away from your friend? Good friends are hard to come by and are worth their weight in gold, so please don’t act rashly here. I see no reason why you shouldn’t go on trusting yourself to act sensibly and treat these dreams for what they are – dreams and fantasies, no more.

If you think there is something wrong in your own life though, it might be worth exploring some of these fantasies – by thinking about them, I mean – to see if there’s something you feel you’re missing out on with your husband? It might also be worth arranging a get together for you all as two couples, so you get to know his wife and he gets to know your husband, as I think that might help you too.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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